Liberty, Love, and Life With Christ Part Two
Christians should live according to God’s universal guidelines of conduct through the power of the Holy Spirit. Part one examined the first guideline. Here are three more.
Genuine Christians often differ concerning what is morally right or wrong. They also differ on how to fit into their culture.
Should Christians conform to or deviate from their cultures? The apostle Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
A Christian’s attitude toward society should be one of nonconformity. Wrote theologian John Murray,
In connection with the concrete and practical details of life there is no more searching question than that of the pattern of thought and action which we follow. To what standards do we conform? We know how disconcerting it is to break with the patterns of behavior that are common in the social environment in which we live….But there are patterns that must be adhered to. This is the force of “be not fashioned according to this world.”1
God demands nonconformity in areas where contemporary culture conicts with His absolutes, but He does not demand it in other areas of life. The nonconformity God demands differs from the nonconformity stressed by our culture. Today’s society discourages one generation from conforming to the lifestyle of another generation, while unconsciously encouraging conformity to one’s own peer group.
But God commands Christians not to conform to any generation or group— even one’s own—if that group’s lifestyle conflicts with God’s moral absolutes. Refusing to conform to the standards of one’s peers requires courage. Christians must frequently stand alone against the practices of their closest friends and reprove the unbiblical ethics of their culture (Eph. 5:1–11).
They must choose either to reeducate their consciences to conform to God’s righteous absolutes or revolt against His standards and follow the culture, which is part of Satan’s world system. Because some Christians do the latter, the apostle John wrote,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world––the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:15–17).
James likewise wrote, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).
Guideline Number 2: Christians Have Liberty to Practice Whatever God’s Absolutes Do Not Forbid.
When properly applied, God’s moral absolutes relate to many areas of daily living. However, what must Christians do concerning practices unrelated to God’s moral absolutes?
According to God’s Word, believers may act according to their consciences (Gal. 2:4; 5:1). They should not judge other believers for doing things God’s absolutes do not forbid.
On the other hand, Christians who feel free to do things not forbidden in Scripture should not disdain others who abstain from those things (Rom. 14:1–12). Thus the second guideline for Christian conduct is that Christians have the liberty to practice or not to practice anything God’s moral absolutes do not prohibit.
Christian liberty is a gift from God for which Christians should be grateful. But because humanity innately tends to abuse and pervert all God’s gifts, Christians sometimes abuse this gift.
For example, Christians may falsely conclude they have the liberty to do the following:
- Allow their sinful dispositions to control them (Gal. 5:13).
- Become enslaved by certain practices or habits (1 Cor. 6:12).
- Squander their time on unedifying pleasures (10:23).
- Violate God’s absolutes, including His law to submit to authority (1 Pet. 2:13–17).
- Offend others (1 Cor. 8:9).2
God clearly states in Scripture all such conclusions are wrong. There are right and wrong uses of Christian liberty. God holds believers responsible to use their liberty properly.
The full exercise of Christian liberty is not the most important thing in the Christian life. God considers other things far more crucial.
Therefore, sometimes Christians must restrict the exercise of liberty in favor of more important matters. They should never become enslaved by their liberty.3 Slavery is the determination to exercise liberty at the cost of anyone and anything.
To prevent the abuse of Christian liberty, God established two more guidelines for Christian conduct. Guidelines three and four explain how to deal with questionable practices–– those things not prohibited by God’s Word but on which sincere Christians disagree because of different cultural backgrounds.
Guideline Number 3: Do Not Violate Your Conscience.
According to Romans 14:22–23, Christians must let their consciences dictate whether to practice something God’s absolutes do not forbid. In other words, if Scripture does not mention the practice, then your conscience should guide you. If you doubt the morality of something, abstain from it. Theologian James Stier explained:
Conscience must have the benefit of every doubt, for in all matters in which the Bible is silent it has God’s authority. It may not usurp the function of his revealed will, but there are many things arising in daily life on which God’s mind has not been made known except in a general way. Here conscience must be heeded, or it utters its condemnation and the man passes under the dark cloud of God’s displeasure.4
Christians must never practice what their consciences condemn. Even if other Christians urge you, claiming the practice is right in God’s sight, you must never violate your own conscience. Theologian Charles Erdman said,
If one is troubled by scruples, and doubts whether it is right for him to do what he sees other Christians doing, then weakly to comply with such others is to incur condemnation; for his act does not result from faith in Christ and from an intelligent knowledge of the freedom which true faith secures; he is doing what he thinks may be morally wrong; and anything which we do not believe to be morally right is sinful.5
Guideline Number 4: Do Not Violate Another Person’s Conscience.
If both the first and third guidelines are met—if God’s moral absolutes and your conscience do not prohibit you from doing something—is it right for you to do it? If you were the only person alive, the answer would be yes.
However, many people live in this world, and all have unique concepts of right and wrong. Believers who feel free to do certain things should not do them if they offend someone else’s conscience (Rom. 14:13—15:3; 1 Cor. 8—10).
Stifler wrote, “A man must be directed not by what he thinks, but by the thought his act will provoke in the mind of another.”6 He continued, “To eat meat and to drink wine may please the palate, but the justied man doesn’t live to please himself, but to please his neighbor.”7
Similarly, Erdman said that a Christian, even when doing things that are morally right, “must consider how his action in so doing will affect others, and must regulate his own liberty by regard for their good.”8
Most Christians easily accept the rst three guidelines, but the fourth prompts some to ask why they must curb their liberty for the sake of others (1 Cor. 10:29–30). Scripture provides clear reasons. Part three of this series will discuss why Christians ought to refrain from exercising their Christian liberty if doing so would offend weaker brothers and sisters in Christ.
- John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 2:113.
- S. Maxwell Coder, Christian Conduct Today (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1964), 8–9.
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), 243.
- James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1897), 247.
- Charles R. Erdman, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1925), 146.
- Stifler, 243.
- Ibid., 247.
- Erdman, 79.